Prohibited Forms of Discrimination and Harassment

If you believe you are experiencing harassment, you are encouraged to contact the appropriate university official (dean, director, HR Representative, etc.) and/or contact the Office for Institutional Equity.

There are also many resources on campus that provide assistance, support and information to individuals experiencing harassment. If you are unsure which office to contact, contact the office that seems most appropriate, and that office will either assist you or help you make contact with a university office that can.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined by law and includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute harassment when: (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a university activity; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for or a factor in decisions affecting that individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a university activity; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s employment or educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive environment for that individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a university activity.

The university considers such behavior, whether physical or verbal, to be a breach of its standards of conduct and will seek to prevent such incidents and take corrective action when sexual harassment occurs.

Generally speaking, there are two types of sexual harassment, “quid pro quo” and hostile environment.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid pro quo (meaning “this for that”) sexual harassment occurs when it is stated or implied that an academic or employment decision about a student or employee depends upon whether the student or employee submits to conduct of a sexual nature (see examples of conduct of a sexual nature below).

Quid pro quo sexual harassment also occurs when it is stated or implied that an individual must submit to conduct of a sexual nature in order to participate in a university program or activity. For example, if an employee is made to believe that a promotion is likely if the employee goes on a date with the employee’s supervisor, the employee is possibly being subjected to “quid pro quo” sexual harassment.

Hostile Environment - Sexual Harassment

A sexually harassing hostile environment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature (see examples, below) creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive working or learning environment or is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from a university program or activity.

While a person engaging in harassing behavior most often has some form of power or authority over the person being harassed, that is not always the case. The harasser can be a peer of the person being harassed. Sometimes the harasser is harassing a person who has power over them. For example, a supervisee can sexually harass a supervisor or a student can sexually harass a faculty member.

To determine whether a hostile environment exists, the university examines the context, nature, scope, frequency, duration, and location of incidents, as well as the identity, number, and relationships of the persons involved. Another factor in determining if a hostile environment exists is whether, on balance, the harassing conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent as to alter the conditions of the environment and create an abusive environment, when judged both objectively (meaning that a “reasonable person” would find the environment hostile) and subjectively (meaning the affected individual felt the environment was hostile). In some cases, a single incident may be so severe as to create a hostile environment. Such incidents may include injury to persons or property, or conduct threatening injury to persons or property.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Conduct of a Sexual Nature

The following descriptions, while not all-inclusive, will help you understand the types of behavior that are considered “conduct of a sexual nature” and that, if unwelcome, may constitute sexual harassment:

Unwanted sexual statements

Sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance, talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others and displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures and/or written material. Unwanted sexual statements can be made in person, in writing, electronically (email, instant messaging, blogs, web pages, etc.) and otherwise.

Unwanted personal attention

This includes letters, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favors, pressure for unnecessary personal interaction and pressure for dates where a sexual/romantic intent appears evident but remains unwanted.

Unwanted physical or sexual advances

This includes touching, hugging, kissing, fondling, leering, exposing oneself, touching oneself sexually for others to view, sexual assault, intercourse or other sexual activity.

Notice

The university cannot address sexual harassment unless it is aware it is occurring. Once the university has notice, it has a responsibility to respond. The response will be designed to determine whether the behavior at issue is sexual harassment and, if it is, the university will take action reasonably calculated to prevent recurrence and ensure that individuals are not restricted in their participation in or receipt of benefits of any university program or activity.

Gender Discrimination

Sex (Gender)

Discrimination and harassment are also prohibited on the basis of a person’s gender. For example, if a woman applied for a job on campus and was deemed the most qualified, yet was not hired because the hiring official was more comfortable working with men, the woman would have been discriminated against on the basis of her gender. Gender discrimination can occur when persons are excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, any university program or activity because of their gender.

Pregnancy

The university’s policy prohibiting gender discrimination also prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and childbirth.

Hostile Environment - Gender Harassment

The university will not tolerate the creation or existence of an environment that is hostile on the basis of gender. Such a hostile environment is defined as harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) related to gender that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to (1) interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the university’s programs and activities or (2) unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment. Whether the harassing conduct is considered severe, persistent or pervasive depends upon the context in which the behavior occurred.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Race, Color and National Origin Discrimination

As outlined in the university’s nondiscrimination statement, no university student, faculty or staff member may, on the basis of their race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any university program or activity. Conduct that has such an effect and that consists of different treatment of students, faculty or staff on the basis of race, color or national origin violates university policy.

For example, a student could not be denied the opportunity to participate in a student organization solely because the student is from a particular country or has ancestors from a particular country.  See examples of prohibited discrimination for more examples of the types of race, color and national origin discrimination prohibited by the university.

Hostile Environment -  Race, Color or National Origin Harassment

The university will not tolerate harassment on the basis of race, color or national origin. A hostile environment of this type is defined as an environment that, through harassing conduct, becomes sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from a university program or activity. See page 6 for examples of university programs and activities.

To determine whether a hostile environment exists, the university examines the context, nature, scope, frequency, duration, and location of incidents, as well as the identity, number, and relationships of the persons involved. Another factor in determining if a hostile environment exists is whether, on balance, the harassing conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent as to alter the conditions of the environment and create an abusive environment, when judged both objectively (meaning that a “reasonable person” would find the environment hostile) and subjectively (meaning the affected individual felt the environment was hostile). In some cases, a single incident may be so severe as to create a hostile environment. Such incidents may include injury to persons or property, or conduct threatening injury to persons or property.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Notice

The university cannot address harassment on the basis of race, color or national origin unless it is aware it is occurring. Once the university has notice, it has a responsibility to respond. The response will be designed to determine whether the behavior at issue is discriminatory harassment and, if yes, the university will take action reasonably calculated to prevent recurrence and ensure that individuals are not restricted in their participation in or receipt of benefits of any university program or activity.

Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination can occur whenever a qualified individual with a disability is denied the same equal opportunities as other university students, faculty and staff because of their disability status.

Under applicable disability laws, an individual with a disability is a person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Temporary, non-chronic impairments that do not last for a long time and that have little or no long-term impact usually are not disabilities. The determination of whether impairment is a disability is made on a case-by-case basis.

What is a “major life activity” under the law?

To be considered a person with a disability, the impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. Examples of major life activities include walking, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, learning and caring for oneself.

What does “qualified” mean?

To be protected, a person must not only be an individual with a disability, but must be qualified. For students, a qualified individual with a disability is a person who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies or practices; the removal of architectural, communication or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids or services, meets the essential requirements for the receipt of services or participation in programs or activities provided by the university.

For university employees, a qualified individual with a disability is a person who satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the employment position and who, with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

For University Students

A reasonable accommodation is a reasonable modification in policies, practices, or procedures, when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of a university service, program or activity.

Examples of reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • note taking services
  • text conversion to alternative accessible formats
  • audio and video tapes
  • qualified interpreter services
  • adjusting time limits on tests
  • making facilities and/or programs readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities

For University Employees

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, employment practice, or the work environment that makes it possible for a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. The university will provide a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.

Examples of reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • job restructuring
  • modified work schedules
  • obtaining or modifying equipment or devices
  • modifying examinations, training materials or policies
  • providing qualified readers and interpreters
  • making facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities

When and how does the university provide reasonable accommodations?

The university is obligated to make a reasonable accommodation only to the known disability of an otherwise qualified employee or student. In general, it is the responsibility of the employee or student to make the disability status and subsequent need for an accommodation known to the appropriate university official. Students may request accommodations through the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities and employees may make a request through their supervisor or the ADA Coordinator in the Office of Institutional Equity.

Once on notice of the need for accommodations, it is the responsibility of the university official and the individual with a disability to discuss possible accommodations and assess the reasonableness and effectiveness of each potential accommodation. Determinations regarding accommodations on campus will be made on a case-by-case basis. Determining a reasonable accommodation is very fact-specific. In general, the accommodation must be tailored to address the nature of the disability and the needs of the individual within the context of the requirements of the job or the program of study. If there are two or more possible accommodations, and one costs more or is more burdensome than the other, the university will give primary consideration to the preference of the individual with a disability; however, the university may choose the less expensive or burdensome accommodation as long as it is effective.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Hostile Environment -  Disability Harassment

The university will not tolerate the creation or existence of an environment that is hostile on the basis of disability. Such a hostile environment is defined as harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) related to disability that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as (1) to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the university’s programs and activities or (2) to unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile or offensive work or learning environment. Whether the harassing conduct is considered severe, persistent or pervasive depends upon the context in which the behavior occurred.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

The University of Michigan prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (e.g. lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, etc.). It is against university policy to treat a person differently from others because of that person’s sexual orientation, or to exclude a person from participation in, or deny a person the benefits of, a university program or activity on that basis.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Hostile Environment  - Sexual Orientation Harassment

The university will not tolerate the creation or existence of an environment that is hostile on the basis of sexual orientation. Such a hostile environment is defined as harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) related to sexual orientation that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to (1) interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the university’s programs and activities or (2) unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment. Whether the harassing conduct is considered severe, persistent or pervasive depends upon the context in which the behavior occurred.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Discrimination Based on Gender Identity and Gender Expression

The University of Michigan prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender expression and gender identity. “Gender identity” refers to a person’s internal knowledge of his/her own gender, and a person may identify as a gender that does or does not appear to correspond to the sex assigned to that person at birth, or the person may not identify as either female or male. Of those people who feel that their birth sex and/or physical bodies are mismatched with their sense of self, not all identify as transgender. Some individuals whose internal knowledge of their gender is inconsistent with their birth sex may undergo sex transition services.

A person’s self-presentation of themselves as female, male, androgynous, or as another gender, as evidenced by their manner of dress, speech or other physical expression of themselves, is referred to as “gender expression.” While the gender expression of most people appears to indicate a close match between their birth sex and their gender identity, the gender expression of others may appear not to match either their birth sex, their gender identity, or both.

Individuals are protected from discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. For example, it would be inappropriate for a supervisor not to promote a qualified person who is transitioning their sex because the supervisor is aware that the employee’s co-workers are uncomfortable with this change.

In order to facilitate an inclusive and supportive working and learning environment, those who interact with transgender persons should make every effort to use the appropriate pronoun (she/he/ze or her/him/hir) requested by the transgender person.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Hostile Environment - Gender Identity or Gender Expression Harassment

The university will not tolerate the creation or existence of an environment that is hostile on the basis of gender identity or gender expression. Such a hostile environment is defined as harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) related to gender identity or gender expression that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to (1) interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the university’s programs and activities or (2) unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment. Whether the harassing conduct is considered severe, persistent or pervasive depends upon the context in which the behavior occurred.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Age Discrimination

No university student or employee shall, on the basis of age, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any university program or activity.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Hostile Environment - Age Harassment

The university will not tolerate the creation or existence of an environment that is hostile on the basis of age. Such a hostile environment is defined as harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) related to age that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to (1) interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the university’s programs and activities or (2) unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment. Whether the harassing conduct is considered severe, persistent or pervasive depends upon the context in which the behavior occurred.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Religious Discrimination

No university student, staff or faculty member shall, on the basis of religion, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any university program or activity. Persons who do not have sincerely held religious beliefs are also protected from religious discrimination on that basis.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Religious Harassment

Harassment based on religious principles can take many forms; however, there are two general categories of religious harassment: a) coercion of participation or non-participation in religious activities, and b) hostile environment.

Coercion of Religious Participation or Non-Participation

No one with the authority to affect a student’s or employee’s status at the university may, explicitly or implicitly, insist that the student or employee participate in religious activities or hold particular religious views.

Hostile Environment - Religious Harassment

The university will not tolerate the creation or existence of an environment that is hostile on the basis of religion. Such a hostile environment is defined as harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) related to religion that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to (1) interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the university’s programs and activities or (2) unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment. For example, the repeated use of derogatory religious terms in an abusive manner can constitute a hostile learning and/or working environment.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Religious Accommodation

The university may provide a reasonable accommodation based on a person’s sincerely held religious belief. In making this determination, the university reviews a variety of factors, including whether the accommodation would create an undue hardship. The accommodation request imposes responsibilities and obligations on both the individual requesting the accommodation and the university. The person requesting the accommodation is obligated to make the university aware of the need for a religious accommodation.

Once a request is made, the university will explore reasonable accommodations to address the person’s religious belief or practice, unless, again, the request creates an undue hardship. The person requesting the accommodation is obligated to cooperate with the university’s attempts to accommodate the request. When more than one accommodation is possible, the university may select any of the accommodations, provided the accommodation will effectively eliminate the religious conflict.

Discrimination Based on Veteran Status

As with other protected classes, veterans are protected from discrimination and harassment and will not be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any university program or activity.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Discrimination Based on Height and Weight

University students, faculty and staff are protected from discrimination on the basis of their height and/or weight, and will not be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any university program or activity.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Discrimination Based on Marital Status

University students, faculty and staff are protected from discrimination on the basis of their marital status, and will not be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any university program or activity.

See more examples of prohibited discrimination.

Learn more about what is considered a Hostile Environment.

Discrimination Based on Genetic Information

The university does not discriminate against potential or current employees on the basis of their genetic information in regard to hiring, discharge, compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment. The university also does not discriminate on the basis of genetic information against any applicant/employee in the admission to or employment in any program established to provide apprenticeship or other training or retraining.        

What is “Genetic Information”?

Genetic information includes:

  • Information about an applicant/employee’s genetic tests (such as testing for a genetic predisposition or increased risk of certain cancers or other diseases, screening to determine risk of transmission of a gene to offspring, such as cystic fibrosis and paternity tests. Genetic testing does not include other medical tests, such as for HIV, cholesterol levels, blood glucose, tests for infectious disease or the presence of drugs or alcohol)
  • The genetic tests of an applicant/employee’s family members
  • Information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in an applicant/employee’s family members (i.e. family medical history)
  • The request for, or receipt of, genetic services (tests, counseling, education) by the applicant/employee or a family member
  • Genetic information of a fetus carried by an applicant/employee or by a family member of the applicant/employee or of any embryo legally held by the applicant/employee or family member using an assisted reproductive technology

While diseases or disorders the applicant/employee has are not considered genetic information, the university does prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of disability, as described above. Information about age, gender, race and/or ethnicity also are not considered genetic information, although, as described above, the university prohibits discrimination and harassment on those bases as well.  

Rules Against Acquiring Genetic Information

In general, the law prohibits the university and those acting on the university’s behalf, such as supervisors, from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information about applicants/employees. While the university generally only seeks genetic information in very limited circumstances, such as may be necessary to certify an FMLA request to care for a family member, there are six exceptions in the law that allow the university to obtain genetic information about an applicant/employee, briefly described as follows:

  • When the genetic information is inadvertently acquired. This includes conversations in which an applicant/employee discloses genetic information about themselves or family members to a supervisor in response to general questions such as “How are you today?” or “Will your mom be okay?” This also includes conversations overheard by or unsolicited emails sent to a supervisor (e.g., “My mother has been diagnosed with cancer.”). If a supervisor asks the applicant/employee probing questions about the situation, such as “Have you been tested for that?” or “Do other members of your family have that?”, any responses that include genetic information would likely not be considered “inadvertently acquired.”
  • When the genetic information (such as family medical history) is obtained as part of voluntary health or genetic services, including wellness programs.
  • Family medical history that is acquired as part of the certification process for FMLA and similar leaves to care for a family member.
  • When the genetic information comes from sources that are commercially and publicly available, such as newspapers, books, magazines and electronic sources, as long as the genetic information is not searched for intentionally.
  • When the genetic information is acquired through a genetic monitoring program that is voluntary or required by law.
  • When the genetic information is acquired as part of DNA testing for law enforcement purposes as a forensic lab or for purposes of human remains identification.

Even when genetic information is lawfully obtained, the university does not permit the information to be used for discriminatory or harassing purposes. Such information is also maintained as confidential to the extent provided for by law.

Harassment Because of Genetic Information

In addition to not permitting discrimination on the basis of genetic information, the university does not tolerate harassment of an applicant/employee because of his or her genetic information. Harassment can include, for example, making offensive or derogatory remarks about an applicant/employee’s genetic information, or about the genetic information of a relative of the applicant/employee. Harassment consists of conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) that is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision (such as an employee being fired or demoted).